Cuban Roots Revisited
If Cuban Roots Revisited were simply a tip of the hat to an influential Afro-Cuban recording of 30 years ago, it still would be worth the time and effort. The original Cuban Roots album, released in 1968, was enormously influential (and currently impossible to find, as only 500 copies were pressed) because of its mix of Afro-Cuban religious music, harmonically advanced arrangements, and lengthy improvised solos. The new Cuban Roots Revisited was intended to be a modern recording of that classic album, using some of today's top Latin-jazz musicians after Cubop couldn't secure the rights to re-release the original on CD. But Cuban Roots Revisited is that and a whole lot more. It is perhaps not surprising that an album featuring the likes of percussionists Francisco Aguabella, John Santos, Humberto "Negue" Hernandez, and pianist Omar Sosa would be this inspired, but the fact that the performers elevate the material beyond a mere tribute to an influential album of yore comes as a real treat. Led by flutist and arranger Mark Weinstein, the leader on the original album and the only member from that recording to be featured here, the all-star group roars through ten tracks -- most of the tunes from the original album plus a new Weinstein original. But with all the material being rearranged for a group that includes flute, three trombones, piano, bass, and percussion, and with the fiery playing from everyone involved, this updated Cuban Roots has its own distinct flavor. Cuban Roots Revisited makes it clear right from the opening "Eleggua," an invocation to the Santería guardian of the crossroads, that it's an album that stands on its own terms. Over a rich layer of percussion led by Aguabella's rhythmic hand-patter, Sosa stretches out in a suspense-inducing piano solo that seems to float effortlessly. From there the album only gathers steam as it moves along. "Mirala Que Linda Viene" nods to Brazil with its sambaesque rhythms and a melody that playfully echoes Antonio Carlos Jobim's "One Note Samba"; "Changó" bursts at the seams with energy as the percussion-fueled tribute to the Santería god of thunder and lightning pushes Weinstein's flute and Arturo Velasco's trombone solos into the stratosphere; and the closing percussion-only take on "Eleggua" ends the album as beautifully as it began. It might be stretching it to say that in 30 years Latin-jazz artists will gather to record a tribute to an obscure-but-influential recording that came out back in the summer of '99 (for one thing it's a safe bet that Cubop has printed more than 500 copies). It's not a stretch, though, to say that this Cuban Roots deserves as much respect and awe as the original, and if those Latin-jazz players of 2029 want to say the same about their own tribute, they'll have their work cut out for them. -- Ezra Gale
The Best of Faces: Good Boys ... When They're Asleep ...
Respect never came easy for Faces, even during their early-Seventies heyday: Written off as a stumbling, inferior version of the Rolling Stones when they weren't regarded as merely the back-up group for its vocalist Rod Stewart, Faces were in fact neither. Rather, this bluesy, boozy, ragtag quintet (Stewart, guitarist Ron Wood, bassist/vocalist Ronnie Lane, keyboardist Ian McLagan, and drummer Kenney Jones) redefined the sonic and thematic possibilities of boogie-injected rock and roll. Like vintage Mott the Hoople, Faces could rock like mad, but they also brought a melancholic, folk-laced sensibility to the music that was an anodyne for the thundering dunderheaded glop of Deep Purple, Humble Pie, and the subpar fools who stomped along behind them (not to mention that they were far more convincing than the quasi-demonic shtick of Mick Jagger).
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The stunning compilation Good Boys ... When They're Asleep ... is an alternately raucous and weepy homage to the band's legacy, which began in 1969 when Steve Marriott left the Small Faces (to form Humble Pie) and was replaced by Stewart and Wood, alumni of the Jeff Beck Group. The retooled, renamed lineup bashed out a fine, if somewhat tentative, debut (1970's First Step) that provided the groundwork for Faces, with a crashing blues burner ("Three Button Hand Me Down"), a gorgeous lover's lament ("Flying"), and a pile-driving cover of Bob Dylan's "Wicked Messenger" that demolishes the original. Those songs are all included on Good Boys, as is the cream of the group's remaining three albums: the mostly great Long Player; the masterful A Nod Is as Good as a Wink ... To a Blind Horse; and the patchy Ooh La La.
Like the best solo work issued concurrently by Stewart, Faces reveled in their misfit status. Although they're known primarily for the massive fuck 'em/leave 'em 1971 hit "Stay With Me," Faces' greatest songs were underdog anthems of hard luck and heartache that rocked with a vengeance: the black sheep returning home in "Bad 'n' Ruin"; the young, foiled lover in "You're So Rude"; the poor sap who loses his girl to the hustling "Pool Hall Richard"; the motley crew that crashes a swank party only to get thrown out after their cockney accents betray them.
Through them all there is a palpable camaraderie that's almost unrivaled in rock and roll. This was a group that played together, in every sense of the word, with Wood's chunky chords and hair-raising slide guitar melding with Lane's Motownish bass burblings, and McLagan and Jones holding down a rhythm that was powerful enough to knock you over, but loose enough that it threatened to tumble down at any minute. Meanwhile rough-grained vocalists Stewart and Lane complemented each other: the former with his rugged, soul-steeped wails and plaintive croon, the latter with an unvarnished tone and humble phrasing that turned ballads such as "Debris" into evocative, aching tearjerkers.
Sadly Stewart's colossally successful solo career put a strain on this seemingly inseparable unit, with Lane departing in 1973 and Wood joining the Stones the following year. By 1975 Faces called it quits, leaving Stewart to squander his massive talents on the unctuous likes of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" and "Infatuation." Listening today to Good Boys ... When They're Asleep ..., that waste is even more galling and depressing, for as Dave Marsh points out in the set's excellent liner notes, they don't make rock bands like Faces anymore. -- John Floyd